Iraqi leaders agreed this week to begin negotiations over a possible extension of the US troop presence in Iraq.
Saddam Hussein expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from the province and replaced them with ethnic Arabs. The goal was to ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil from the province by populating it with people whom the regime trusted.
US leaders have supported the rights of Kurds since toppling Mr. Hussein’s regime in 2003. But eight years later, Kirkuk – like much of Iraq – is still seen as an unfinished business in danger of collapse.
Although Kirkuk has been less affected than other provinces by the mayhem that has wracked the country, it has had its share of violence. In recent months, a series of bombings and assassinations rocked the province, arousing fears that the situation might further deteriorate if the United States withdraws its remaining forces.
“The security situation is not stable here, and there are all sorts of problems and disputes,” says Ali Mahdi Sadiq, the spokesman for Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITF), the largest Turkoman political group in Kirkuk. Turkomans constitute the third-largest ethnic group in the province.
“The security and police forces are not ready yet to take over and this requires the presence of neutral troops, such as US forces, in these areas,” says Mr. Sadiq.
Several security and military groups are operating in Kirkuk, resulting in a lack of a unified command and operational structure. There are the units of the Iraqi Army’s 12th Division in addition to local police forces and the Kurdish security and armed forces known as asayish and peshmerga.